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The Race of the Birkebeiners

The Race of the Birkebeiners

  • Author: Pattertravelers
  • Date Posted: Apr 24, 2015
  • Category:
  • Address: Trondheim, Norway

The Race of the Birkebeiners, written by Lise Lunge-Larsen and illustrated by Mary Azarian is based on a saga from 1264 of the rescue of young prince Håkon, the most powerful king that Norway had during the Middle Ages.  The woodcut illustrations capture the time period beautifully along with the emotions of the various participants.

 The Birkebeiners were peasants and fierce warriors in the Middle Ages loyal to the King.  They were known as Birkebeiners for the birch leggings they wrapped around their legs for protection when they went into battle in contrast to the wealthy nobles who had metal armor.  Prince Håkon was born three weeks after death of his father, King Haakon Sverresson,  in 1204, and the Birkebeiners’ rivals, the wealthy Baglers, attempted to claim the throne for themselves.  The Queen, Inge, hid Prince Håkon for over a year, but as the Baglers became stronger, she fled North trying to reach the stronghold of the Birkebeiners in Nidaros where the Birkebeiners could help her protect her son.  Eight Birkebeiners joined her in Lillehammer as they prepared to cross the mountains at the darkest, coldest and most dangerous time of the year when hosts of evil spirits roamed the land.   Even though they make it through storms and harrowing nights to Nidaros, the story doesn’t end there…
This is one of the first stories we have disagreed about as a family.  I found it a little dry and was not sure it deserved a place on the blog, but my boys asked for it to be read to them over and over again. From their perspective what’s not to like?  Warring factions, escaping over the mountains, hiding in the snow, and everything works out in the end!
The Race of the Birkebeiners has turned into an annual event in both Norway and the U.S. with individuals in both races skiing 54 km (33mi). In Norway, the Birkebeinerrennet takes place from Rena to Lillehammer and in the U.S. it takes place in Hayward, Wisconsin through the American Birkebeiner Ski Association.
Nedros, or Trondheim, where Inga and young prince Håkon fled for safety, was founded in 997 and was the first capital of Norway.  It is currently the third most populous urban area in Norway and there is a lot to see and do there for families with children including the Sverresborg Open Air Museum of Cultural History, and the Archbishop’s Palace Museum  on one end of the spectrum and Pirbadet water park and  Rockheim, which showcases Norwegian Rock and Roll music from the 1950s to the present, on the other.

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